Applying Behavioral Terrain mapping to Afghanistan, the tribe and the village

This is a repository of selected Afghanistan products, mainly focused on working within the system of culture, Pashtunwali and village networks to build trust and relationships, in ways that are (well, most likely but certainly never guaranteed) to work in spite of-rather than because of-the Afghan government and corrupt burocracies in place.

This has become more essential than ever in light of several critical factors, chiefly the COIN environment, the need to ‘drive a wedge’ between villages and insurgents, the need for sustainable models of ground-up village empowerment, the need for economic micro-development in a sincere way that allows for trust and healthy relations with a village.

In short, the top-down model of economic and social development has proved extremely problematic, lending itself to high degrees of corruption, opportunism, and failure. The emerging trend, supported by the spectrum of analysis and experience, is empowering villages and communities from the ground up. This ground-up approach has become a center of gravity in winning over the AO for both ground commanders and international aid groups.

It is also a center of gravity for global investors, and the investment dollars needed by the Afghan people and Afghan economy.

In addition, the vast abundance of natural resources such as minerals makes Afghanistan a potentially strong and profitable global investment opportunity. Corruption, insecurity and uncertainty-along with the difficulty of building genuine trust and relationships with villages on the ground-makes this investment opportunity a wasted one, with both venture capitalists and the Afghan people living and working near these natural resources losing out as a result.

This includes a proposed template of sorts for ‘winning over’ a village in order to make inroads on a personal level, bypassing the formal, superficial and often failed channels of top-down government partnering, projects, and burocracy. Of course, its really not about ‘winning over’ the village, or of ‘changing’ hearts and minds per se, but about gaining trust, loyalty and respect (ODAs use this term a lot more than ‘hearts and minds’). In short, its a Human Terrain piece that will hopefully become more studied, used and mainstreamed into wider lessons learned (perhaps via the CALL forum).

One response to “Applying Behavioral Terrain mapping to Afghanistan, the tribe and the village

  1. Taking this very basic rundown, the ‘Village Approach Model (VAM) advocated here is-very specifically-premised on several key components, all of which are the result of long and hard-earned experience and analysis:

    One, human capital is important, and there is much human capital among Afghans. In short, humans are more important than hardware (SOF Truth # 1).

    Two, in order to engage, assess and understand villages in which we are working with, we should use, as much as possible, the Pashtun social mechanisms of Hujra and ‘village community’
    Three, such an assessment should also focus on identifying key leaders, families, and segments of the village, as well as vulnerable members in need of labor.

    Four, projects can be used to provide a tangible source of labor for one to several dozen members of the village. This should be done in affair and even-handed approach, selecting one or two jobless members from each family.

    Five, such projects have the stated purpose of creating an intangible bond with the village, by way of providing a dignified pathway for the poorest members to support their community. The benefit is intangible and emotion-based rather than tangibly money/project-based. The former builds an invaluable bond, the latter is often a bottomless pit of unmet request and needs.

    Six, this intangible bond leads to a better assessment of the village and better rapport with the village, to include the social mechanisms of Hujra and community mentioned above.
    Seven, proper use of the villages’ social mechanisms of community allows for better relations, better engagements, and better distribution of knowledge and resources.

    In addition, such mechanisms of solidarity and cooperative relationships can often be solidified between villages as well, so as to create a self-sustaining pathway of support along the lines of Pashtun culture that can function once we leave Afghanistan.

    By solidifying inter-village social networks via common forums of interpersonal bonding (Hujra, micro-loans to markets or shops, often using influential families from each village), we are proactively shaping the social terrain and human battlespace, which facilitates more economic stability, more opportunities for investment, and – in key areas – an opportunity to reliably and equitably extract minerals and deposits of sizable wealth and value, the absence of which is significantly holding back the people in these communities.

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